Mechanical doping: Bettini calls on UCI to use thermal cameras at Giro d'Italia

Former world champion Paolo Bettini has called on the UCI to use thermal camera in races, starting with the Giro d'Italia, to identify possible use of mechanical doping in races.

Bettini, who is now the head of the Italian Pro League's technical committee, spoke to Gazzetta dello Sport following the investigation into mechanical doping by French television programme Stade 2 and Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.

The newspaper claimed that seven cases of suspected mechanical doping were spotted by using a thermal camera from the roadside at the Strade Bianche race and from a motorbike in the Coppi e Bartali stage race. Stade 2 also interviewed Hungarian engineer Istvan Varjas, the alleged creator of the hidden motors and suspected supplier to a number of professional riders. He confirmed that smaller motors now exist and are hard to find inside bicycles. He also confirmed that the most advanced form of mechanical doping is now hidden in carbon fibre rims and uses battery powered neodymium magnets to produce up to 60 watts of power. The wheels can be activated and modulated via a bluetooth device – even an expensive watch that has Bluetooth. These can only be detected via a powerful magnetic field detector.

The UCI currently uses a tablet device for magnetic resonance testing using software created in partnership with a company of specialist developers. They claim they can test a bike and wheels in less than a minute but have so far refused to confirm the validity of their technique. The UCI claims their device is "by far the most cost effective, reliable and accurate method."

Bettini is not convinced. "I understand the technology of thermal cameras pretty well and I know they can detect the heat of possible hidden motors, even from a distance. I know how they're used in Formula 1, motorbike racing and car rallying. It's a real way to evaluate and control and it's certified. You can identify everything from 20 metres away," Bettini said.

"I believe in thermal cameras much more than the UCI's tablet to analyse bikes. I haven't seen any official study for these kind of apps, or about who has made them and what they can see."

"I believe that if a technology can help, it has to be used immediately. I don't know if pro riders have used motors, I'm amazed that somebody would risk their career for it."

"I'm convinced it'd be simple to have a couple of thermal cameras on motorbikes to control the peloton. If we need a deterrent, it has to be officially controlled by the UCI, otherwise we could end up with people loading videos onto YouTube shot from the side of the road and that'd open a huge can of worms."

Bettini insists that the estimated 50,000 Euro cost of a thermal camera cannot be excuse not to use them.

"They'd just need a day to test them and in a week the problem of hidden motors would be resolved," Bettini argued.

"We shouldn't forget that thermal cameras come from military use and so they're very precise. 50,000 Euro is nothing compared to that of value of cycling. That's why I call on them to be used immediately. I really hope the UCI would have them in time for the Giro d'Italia."

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